State champions

Greenup County's cheerleaders react to winning the state title on Saturday night at Alltech Arena in Lexington. SUBMITTED PHOTO

LLOYD It’s not easy to accomplish a first when it comes to Greenup County High School’s nationally acclaimed cheerleading squad.

But on Saturday night, the current squad did just that, winning the first state championship in school history.

Greenup County has 14 national championships and now a state title, too.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association only introduced Competive Cheerleading as a sport three years ago.

While the squad’s main goal is always winning the national championship, winning the state title was extra sweet.

“None of the girls on this squad have won the national championship,” said Candy Berry, in her 38th year of directing Greenup County’s cheerleading squads.

Greenup County used the same routine for the state competition as it will for the national competition in February.

They nailed it, defeating runner-up by seven points — a whopping margin in the cheerleading world — in the medium (16 cheerleaders) division.

Even more impressive was a 24-point victory in the 16th Region competition.

“We have won and lost national titles by .1 and .4 percent,” Berry said. “These margins were unusual.”

Sixteen of 20 cheerleaders are on the competitive squad and only three are seniors — Cheyenne Buchanan, Alex Lacey and Ashton Quillen.

“This has been our only focus for weeks,” Buchanan said. “It gets our confidence up for nationals.”

The national competition will be Feb. 7-8 in Orlando, Fla. Greenup County already won the Bluegrass region to qualify.

The state competition will serve as the perfect warmup, Berry said.

“It is exactly the same format” as nationals, she said. “A lot of the judges are very, very similar. Why I got my kids pumped up. How wonderful would it be to leave here as state champion? We not only represent our school but the state.”

Berry has seen enough competitions to know when her squad does well. She knew if this time, too.

“They were exciting and entertaining,” she said. “Sometimes you can do all the skills and nail the routine but not have any charisma. We nailed every one of our skills and stunts and had so much charisma and enthusiasm. I pretty much thought we’d won.”

So when the announcement came, it was no surprise to Berry, who was a thousand times happier for the squad than herself.

“I’ve won plenty, this is for them,” she said.

When KAPOS was running the cheerleading competitions, it wasn’t recognized as a sport by the KHSAA.

When that changed, it became mandatory for schools to compete or face fines and probations.

“We tried to opt out the first year, but couldn’t,” Berry said. “We were more interested in nationals.”

They still are but winning the state was still extra special. The squad brought home a trophy equal to any other state championship sponsored event by the KHSAA. They also performed before a large crowd at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Buchanan said. “It meant a lot to all of us.”

Buchanan transferred to Greenup County from Russell last year as a junior simply because of competitive cheerleading.

Last year, Greenup County was second behnd Dunbar in the state competition and finished third in the national competition.

“It’s all really exciting,” said Lacey. “It’s a great feeling that can’t be put into words.”

Quilen said on Monday all of her teachers, friends and even students she didn’t know well were offering congratulations on winning.

“The community is getting more into it,” she said. “We haven’t had that in a long time.”

Greenup County was eighth in the national competition when Quillen was a sophomore so the jump to third place was big, she said.

Lacey said her heart was in her throat before Greenup County was announced as state champions of the medium (16 cheerleaders) division.

“They call the top four and pause,” she said. “You’re shaking, holding your breath. They count them down from four.”

When Letcher County Central was announced as runner-up, the Greenup County squad began to get excited. Then, seconds later, they erupted in celebration after being announced champions as the other squads around them watched in envy.

Meanwhile, their veteran coach took in another big moment.

“This is my 38th year and that lady is about to sing,” Berry said. “I’ve been working for three years to get somebody to take over. We’ve got a couple of alumni grls ready to step up I believe.”